Sons of the Forest is the next instalment of the cult favourite first-person survival game from 2018, The Forest, developed by Endnight Games and out now in Steam early access. The Forest was a game that my “gaming brother from another mother”, Kane, introduced me to years ago. He said, “Johnny, you gotta get this game its awesome.” Now Kane has never led me astray with giving good tips on games that I end up pumping hours into each day. So, I decided to get it and see what it was all about.
The first time I played The Forest was in a server that Kane had set up with his mates. I honestly didn’t know what to expect but boy, after that experience I did not sleep well that night! If it wasn’t Kane and the lads scaring the shit out of me using the in-game walkie talkie, it was the cannibals screaming and chasing me down in the darkness. I’m not talking typical game darkness where the area is lit up by the moon and you can see around you. No, I’m talking pitch frigging black running for my life type of darkness. Sometimes I’d be running and nothing was chasing me. What I was running from was the awesome ambience of the game; trees rustling behind me, blood curdling screams in the distance and sometimes right behind me.
I generally don’t go for horror games, too much of a wimp to be scared every five seconds, but The Forest sucked me right in and I couldn’t get enough. The amount of gameplay hours that Kane and I would spend making the most ridiculous builds using the games crafting system was insane. I think one of our favourite builds was trying to make a version of Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings Two Towers on the coast. We chopped down so many trees we would start getting complaints from activist groups. I still rate, even today, The Forest as one of my all-time favourite co-op games.
When we heard about a new game being developed by Endnight Games, we both prayed to the gaming gods to deliver us a new game in the world of The Forest. Endnight Games has answered the call! Sons of the Forest is currently in early access so there may be elements of the game that haven’t been implemented yet or they are working on smoothing out the rough edges. It was time. Time for Kane and I to finally play Sons of the Forest together; and we were damn excited. We set aside a night where we both didn’t have to go to work, wives were watching their favourite show and kids were in bed asleep so we could immerse ourselves into the Sons of the Forest without any interruptions.
Now what you must understand is this. My boy Kane doesn’t play easy mode or normal mode in games. He occasionally warms up on a game in hard mode but if the hardest level is an insane mode; well, that’s where he fits right into. So, he loads up a new multiplayer server set to hard. Also, if it wasn’t for Kane, I’d be playing Sons of the Forest with the lights on. Even though he lives in another state of Australia, I still felt his eyes looking at me going, “Turn those lights off b*tch!”. The lights are off, and the faint glow of the screen is all that is illuminating my office.
The intro screen feels like something out of the movie Predator and I’m sitting next to Dutch, Dillion, Blain and the boys listening to Little Richard. As you could imagine, things go to shit quickly. Crashed chopper, roll down a cliff then opening my eyes to some dude dressed in an outfit from a James Bond movie pointing a gun straight in my face. Cut to black. Kane and I woke up at a crash site high up in the mountain snow. We couldn’t help but to look around at the environment. Endnight Games have taken the graphics quality to another level with Sons of the Forest. I looked out from the cliff side and could see a vast forest of trees and further in the distance a beach.
The detail of the game engine was a big step up from The Forest and I was thoroughly impressed with the little things like footprints in the snow from your character moving around and the detailed animal animations of the squirrels and birds. “Gear up!” I heard Kane say over discord. The game introduces you to the new style of inventory management and layout of your survival kit. Hitting the ‘I’ key opens your survival backpack and lays it out in front you. The traditional craft mat with all your crafting materials and slots for weapons was there. Also, the craft mat has an added lighting system so you can see all your gear a lot more easily in the darkness.
The only gripe I had with it was the slow turning to get to things on the far sides of the mat. It really is excessively and unnecessarily slow. I feel like it should be a quick movement so you can scan across the mat to get what you need and not what it is currently where I can make a cup of tea, come back and my character is still trying to look across to the far sides (I exaggerate but you get the point). Another issue that started to get annoying was the backpack “hotkey” system. As I write this, the game has updated with a new hotkey system but before the update I felt the inventory management needed a few tweaks to make it a little bit more friendly for players to access their gear. For example, trying to switch from spear to Molotov quickly was annoying because if you managed to quick access your Molotov to your backpack, you still needed your lighter to light it. So, if you had a torch in your hand you had to roll out your mat, select the lighter to equip, close the mat and by that time you are probably dead.
Starting off the game gives you a GPS device, basic knife, axe and lighter to start your journey but as Kane and I knew, we had to get every supply we could and find somewhere to camp quickly before night fell. Making our way down the mountain took a little bit of time but the transition from snow to forest was smooth. There were a few graphic glitches and frame drops but I was expecting that with early access. One of the interesting aspects of the game that you are introduced straight away is companions. We met with another soldier, called Kelvin who appears to have had his ear drums blown out and can’t hear. The interaction system with your companion is you as the player writing down a note for Kelvin to do a particular task. You can make him gather materials and food, go fishing to even getting him to stay hidden so the bad guys don’t kill him. The AI for Kelvin generally follows you with no issues but give him a task to collect logs for example and he goes and chops down the tree with your newly formed tree house.
The GPS device is a great little addition to the game. You can track Kelvin or other players with you on the GPS. It also has a number of points of interest for you to go and check out. However, I think having GPS markers at a lot of locations makes the game a little too easy. I would like to see something that generates an investigation where you get given a starting point or two and searching the area can give you a clue on the next area to search in. The GPS should have a function for you to be able to mark-up points on the map that you want to come back to.
We found a nice little lake and got to work making a basic camp. The survival aspects of the game are great. Walk around in the snow too long without the right gear and you start to freeze, causing your character to shiver and have adverse health effects. Food and water are essential. Plenty of animals to hunt, berries to eat or if you’re lucky, find some soda cans and MRE’s. I’m hoping that there will be a cooking pot aspect of the game introduced soon. Kane and I found that we gather all these berries and plants and can’t really use them.
Building is different this time around. Kane is the architect and I’m the gatherer. My initial look at the handy little field guide to survival shows various things to build and also enables a secondary mode which is essentially free build mode. The previous game basically created an outline of the thing you wanted to build and you just had to fill it with materials to complete it. Now you have the ability to create whatever structure you want with the new build system. I feel like the building options needs more work. Not enough variety like the previous game but in saying that, I believe the free build mode will help the more imaginative player build some crazy structures. Maybe there will be future updates that lets the player find blueprints to add to their survival guide.
Building anything in Sons of the Forest requires a lot of materials. Having the companion system implemented is good for either single or multi players. Having that extra set of hands helping does make gathering materials less tiresome. The sound effects in Sons of the Forest are fantastic and at times ear drum bursting. You could be walking along a riverbank then suddenly the sound of a running river booms in your ear and feels excessive. The storm weather effects and sounds however are spot on with them being loud and crazy. The sound design for night-time is superb. It really does capture how it is as you can barely see in front of you and every sound of bush rustling and footsteps keeps you at the edge of your seat. You really want to minimise walking around at night. Enemies come out of nowhere and you desperately try to find where they are to land a killing blow.
Since release, Kane and I have been through a lot of caves, bunkers and across the island. There have been some fantastic moments of getting scared shitless and intense battles with a variety of enemies. I hope that more content is added to the island. It is truly a remarkable design and very vast, but you feel after a while that it is too empty and needs more exploration points. I have found the weapons need work. The accuracy is rarely consistent and various weapon mods actually make it harder to aim e.g., laser sight position. Also aiming down sight animations are in need of work, especially the bow. It just needs a slight tweak to get it more inline with enemies than the current guess work you need that may or may not hit the target, even if you are dead on sights.
Overall, for a game that is early access I believe that Endnight have done a great job so far. With more updates to iron out a few game bugs, improvements and hopefully more content points to explore on the island, Sons of the Forest is gearing up to be a big hit game for the year. Now if you’ll excuse me, Kane is harassing me to go into a new area we haven’t explored and I’m out of fresh underwear.
This review utilised keys provided by Endnight Games and Sons of the Forest is available now in Steam early access.